Right in the centre - Innovation needs to be achieved


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

On Monday it was revealed that the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg was calling in paramedics to help out at the Emergency Ward. This process was heavily criticized by NDP leader, Wab Kinew.

I have fair bit of respect for Wab Kinew. We have met a few times and I hosted him at my table at an AGM banquet for the Manitoba Community Newspapers Association when I was MCNA president. On the odd  occasion when I visit the Manitoba legislature, and we cross paths, Kinew always takes a moment to chat. I appreciate that.

On this paramedic/ER issue though, I would disagree with Mr. Kinew. This is not a new low on health care as Kinew’s criticism quoted in a Winnipeg Free Press story suggests, it’s common sense.

I am pretty sure this practice is done at rural hospitals. Admittedly, rural paramedics “may” not be under quite as much pressure as their Winnipeg based counterparts but it only makes sense, if there is any uncommitted time in their shifts that they help out in the hospital. The Winnipeg situation is a bit different in that, HSC is asking paramedics to take whole shifts. I say if they are willing to do it, go for it. The staff need the help and I am sure the extra wages would be welcomed by the paramedics

Back in the early days of   COVID-19, some Winnipeg care homes were criticized for calling in paramedics and ambulances when residents were under duress. The care homes were running short on staff, which of course shouldn’t happen but it does. When the care homes knew they couldn’t keep up, they should have called in the paramedics sooner. In my mind, it’s not a question of calling in paramedic help. It’s a question of why they didn’t make the call sooner. When a person’s health is dangerously slipping, for whatever reason, who better to call? It’s no shame to call paramedics when a person falls ill at their residence. Why should it have been criticized at care homes? The care home is their residence after all.

When we approach a problem, we tend to use a segmented method. It can also be called the silo approach. We tend to look at a problem only from our own experience and only within our own strict jurisdiction. Hence the term silo approach. Everybody keeps their head down, not looking upward or outward, all the while somebody in another silo may well have a better idea. If paramedics are able and willing to help, go for it.

I suspect, and have even observed, that strict job descriptions, backed up by union agreements can hamper innovation and efficiency. When confronted with a problem, it’s all too easy to say, “It’s not in my job description, not my problem.” Thankfully, in most cases, be it in health care or in other fields of work, the level of concern overrides  the hesitation factor and the problem gets solved. In fact, the union heads for both the paramedic and nurses unions were quick to decry the use of paramedics in hospital ERs. I am sure the union leaders are very frustrated with lots of things but their very predictable reaction simply shows the problem. It isn’t always more money or more staff that is needed, sometimes it’s innovation.

The desire for innovation is high. In a recent column in the Winnipeg Free Press it was noted, “According to a Probe Research/Free Press poll conducted in early June, 74 per cent of respondents said it’s either a “very good” or “somewhat good” idea to increase capacity in the health-care system through private providers.”

It seems to me that health care has become very bureaucratic and bound by traditions  that sometimes would be better broken or tossed. The above quoted poll also shows strong support for private providers across all political party supporters. We need to remember that almost all doctors are already private providers but paid by the province.

The voting public should insist at the ballot box that all nonsense be tossed from health care. We, the people, see 40 per cent of our tax dollars flow into tax funded health care. In addition hospital and community foundations pour millions more into facilities and equipment. On top of that, people pay for a lot of drugs and specialty care out of  their own pocket. With so much of everyone’s money going into health care,  one might be tempted to ask for more efficiency and better results. Health care workers feel overrun, over worked and under paid. Surely, we can fix that, can’t we? One small step might be to be more innovative such as asking paramedics to apply their skills in emergency situations. Innovation needs to be encouraged, not beaten down.

Some would say, we need more money in the system. That may be true but if we ask anybody inside the system, I bet everyone of them can list at least three ways efficiency could be improved. All the leadership, at all levels, needs to ask the workers at all levels. The answers may surprise them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.